Adrian + Meredith (from the album Bad for Business available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
A medicine show wagon has just rolled into town ready to peddle magic elixirs. This is their soundtrack, backing strong-arm sales tactics to the locals. From Gypsy Jazz and punchy Folk to Polkas and Country Blues all delivered with dirty Rock’n’Roll grit, the latest release from Adrian + Meredith, Bad for Business,is a Vaudevillian theatre, a mashed up concoction of the aforementioned sounds delivered in a good time package.
The bouncy “Even” opens Bad for Business, pushed by a rough saxophone, giving you the first taste of the duo’s hard-sewn harmonies. Gypsy fiddle drives the title track and features clever wordplay referencing various Hubbard’s, namedropping L. Ron and Ray Wylie, while Adrian + Meredith drop surf guitar riffs as an invitation to vintage mod-dancers to do a herky-jerky dance in “DOA”. “California” has a Psychedelic Rock vibe and “Who Stole the Keishka” is a Balkan blast while A+M lay down a Country ballad with “Chalk”. “Valley View” is a slow, historical ballad dropped out of the Civil War era; quiet banjo providing a bed that supports a lonely fiddle that alternating with Meredith’s angelic vocals. It’s a cut that moves from ballad to hoedown to close out the album. Bad for Business is a fun record of old-time Americana. A place where Ragtime Jazz and Country Blues are given a 19th Century, European Folk treatment that comes with a Punk Rock stamp. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Wandering Hearts (from the album The Wandering Hearts available Cooking Vinyl Limited) (by Chris Wheatley)
‘It sounds like someone put the world on mute’ says AJ Dean-Revington who, together with Chess Whiffin and Tara Wilcox, comprise The Wandering Hearts. Dean-Revington is speaking of the locale, high up in the Catskill Mountains, in Woodstock, New York, where, during the wintertime, the band recorded their self-titled sophomore album, a follow-up to 2017's Wild Silence. This is a band to whom authenticity clearly matters, and it's hard to envision an more apt setting for The Wandering Hearts music. ‘It was on the Ashokan trail and had the most incredible views’ says Chess of the intimate studio where the tracks were laid down. After daily recording sessions, the group would retire to a ‘mountainside clapboard farmhouse’ to jam, aided by a vintage 1930s Recording King tenor guitar, loaned by the farmhouse's owner. The Wandering Hearts met by chance through mutual friends and, in a dream start to their career, were picked up by a management company just twenty-six minutes after uploading their first ever demo to SoundCloud. Equally impressive, the trio won the prestigious Bob Harris Emerging Artist award in 2018.
“Hammer Falls” starts us off here, and what a wonderful number it is. Over a classic, rolling Bluesy acoustic guitar riff, softly thumping drums rise and some frankly beautiful harmonized vocals coalesce. It's a track which could lilt along on those opening few bars repeated, but main vocals soon kick in, tambourine ups the pace and sparkling electric guitar flickers round the edges. There's a lot to enjoy here. The warm, sunny production leaves enough hazy lines so that the crystal-clear guitar shines through to great effect. “Over Your Body”, in contrast, kicks off with a decidedly modern-sounding, shuffling drum-beat, punctuated by subtle guitar. Once again, it's those harmonized vocals which steal the show. On this track, indeed throughout the entire album, The Wandering Hearts show themselves eminently capable of crafting music with depth and soul, yet possessed of a warm, radio-friendly feel.
“I Feel It Too” is a heart-felt lullaby of a number. A guitar, and those voices, are all The Wandering Hearts need to conjure up a magical, timeless fantasy. ‘There's gold in the ground to be used...darling, I feel it too’. Circling lyrics and gentle motifs are the watchwords. One of the slower numbers, “Dolores”, is just as appealing. Finger-picked, interweaving guitars dance and flow like a summer stream. Vocally, you couldn't ask for richer, more luscious sounds. You can easily visualize mountain meadows and clear blues skies. “Dreams”, a standout track for this listener, adds a playful Americana edge, reminiscent of the great Outlaw Country stars of old. The easy, rambling, shambling feel is married to pin-point playing and earnest emotion. This would have been a hit in the 1950s. It ought to be a hit now.
Some of that classic feel is doubtless down to the wonderful production. The band single out producers Simone Felice and David Baron for providing a ‘safe, super positive space which felt almost spiritual in its focus’ and the “incredible analog recording gear’. Gear and location alone aren't enough, of course. The Wandering Hearts do both justice thanks to some superb playing and no little heart. Fans of lavishly crafted Country Pop are going to love this. Lavish, here, is used to connote effort and invention. The music itself feels as light as a feather and sounds as open as the hills. Recommended. (by Chris Wheatley)
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Ana Egge (from the album Between Us available on StorySound Records) (by Bryant Liggett
Call the latest album from Ana Egge “Pop” but follow the judgment with descriptive music adjectives that will get you into a diverse the genre ballpark. Pop Blues, Pop Lounge and Pop Roots with a cocktail vibe, Ana Egge’s latest in Between Us is cool and casual, her croon coming through studio-enhanced clean and modern hipness. She opens with a nod to going nowhere; “Wait A Minute” a sultry cool cut that is a soundtrack to meandering, taking your sweet time to get going, as Egge sings ‘wait a minute, why can’t we slow down, why don’t we take a little time?”. Ana Egge uses subtle electro lounge melodies and 80’s New York saxophone to dedicate a song for those souls forever in breakups with “Heartbroken Kind” while “Don’t Come Around” is a whispered, new-age noir ballad.
A New Wave rhythm section methodically kicks off “Be Your Drug” as Ana Egge’s vocals float over trumpet and piano fills. Those airborne vocals go into mournful mode with a double dose of sadness in “Lie Lie Lie” and “Sorry”. A fun aspect to Between Us is the added instrumentation. Ana Egge colors “Want Your Attention” with space-age Jazz fills however the whole record has little musical nuggets, including a horn section that lends some punch to the melodies that live under the singer’s softly emotive vocals. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Ward Hayden & The Outliers (from the album Free Country available as a self-release) (Bryant Liggett)
Change the name, don't change the output. Ward Hayden has dropped the band name Girls Guns Glory, changing to Ward Hayden and the Outliers. That is the only alteration. What remained the same is Ward Hayden’s slightly twangy Roots Rock and Roll patented product. Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel producing Free Country keeps the album a Rock record with Country leanings that hold no allegiance, a full band effort that showcases Hayden’s singer/songwriter abilities. A big Rock riff and pulsing bassline kicks off and drives the lonely “Nothing To Do”, a story where the narrator questions self-worth while pondering loneliness who ‘can’t go home, I burnt that bridge, spent my last dime’.
Small town marriage and heartache rolls on in “Shelly Johnson” as the ballad screams she ‘could use a better man’ as “All Gone Mad” looks at the state of the world, and its worth, questioning people in their virtual world. A click-clack locomotive rhythm drives “I’d Die for You” and the sobering anthem “Bad Time To Quit Drinking” is loaded with get sober statements while a bouncy shuffle kicks off “Irregardless” as Ward Hayden brilliantly calls out himself while also calling out all the others that ‘got a phone, became a drone’.Two-stepping and cow-punking give a romp around Free Country while many verses that question current events call for a second, thoughtful listen. Its equal good time and equal mind-provoking, Ward Hayden & The Outliers providing a record smart both lyrically and musically. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Colin Cutler (from the album Hot Pepper Jam available as a self-release) (by Mason Winfree)
The Piedmont of North Carolina is home to various musical traditions that make up the vast lexicon of American roots music. From the rhythmic fingerpicking guitar style of the Piedmont Blues to the two-finger rolls of the old-time banjo in the vein of central North Carolina’s very own country music pioneer, Charlie Poole, the musical landscape of North Carolina has cultivated some of the most seminal artists carrying on roots music traditions today. Many of these traditions are collected and demonstrated on the latest release from acclaimed musician, Colin Cutler, in the form of an album titled Hot Pepper Jam. The album not only serves as a celebration of the land that reared him but also as a homecoming with the music signifying his return to the United States to receive a hospitable embrace.
Kicking off the album is the banjo-driven “Bristol City Breakdown” which pays homage to the birthplace of Country music, the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia. A self-proclaimed true story of a night of playful inebriation where Colin Cutler started his night in Tennessee, but woke up in Virginia. The tune features great fiddle work by Greensboro’s very own, Christen Mack, whose brilliant playing can be heard throughout the entire record.
The title track of the album, “Hot Pepper Jam”, is a rollicking number that clocks in as the second track of the album, and transplants Colin Cutler to a hot pepper field in Carolina. With steamy subtlety, Cutler crafts a narrative of new-found love; disclosing a very true story of meeting his significant other for the first time while she was wearing a hot pepper suit for the farmer’s market and looking hot pepper cute. Serving as the epitome of the album itself, the track possesses the qualities that exhibit Cutler’s artistry – layered lyricism, brilliant storytelling, and hot picking.
Hot Pepper Jam also contains interpretations of traditional American Folk tunes including “Cruel Willie”, “Am I Born to Die”, and “Waterbound” – a tune originally recorded in the 1920s which encapsulates the overarching theme of the record: a return to home. After spending several years teaching abroad, Colin Cutler’s interpretation of “Waterbound” is particularly fitting on this new collection--the number relaying a weary traveler’s plight to get back home to North Carolina. The presence of “Waterbound” on the record also connects Cutler to another traditional Piedmont artist from North Carolina: Greensboro’s Rhiannon Giddens who also included the tune on her latest release, They’re Calling Me Home.
Other highlights on the album include the instrumental “Lindley Park”, a tribute to the neighborhood Cutler lived in as a student while attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The stripped-down track features Colin Cutler solo on guitar, and its whimsical melody has the ability to ease your mind and take you back to a simpler time. The song “Red Bird” is an original tune that sounds just as old as the traditional numbers on the collection. Filled with images recalling the geography of North Carolina such as the muscadines that grow in the Coastal Plain, and the redbuds (which happen to be one of the very first trees to flower in the state), the song craftily paints a vivid image in your mind of the old North State and honors the cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird.
“Back in Gate City Again” features a weeping steel guitar provided by the great Mark Byerly laid over a fine piano accompaniment by Jack Gorham, and Mack on fiddle. The song is a beautiful salute to the city of Greensboro; a place that Colin Cutler holds dear to his heart, and now calls home once more. With such eloquent lyricism complemented by a stellar cast of fine musicians, the song stands out as a favorite and positions the listener directly in the landscape that the album is celebrating.
Hot Pepper Jam is an album demonstrating that the rich musical traditions of the Piedmont are alive and well. Featuring some of the best musicians from the region, including Christen Mack on fiddle, Evan Campfield and Ryan Mack on bass, Wake Clinard on mandolin, Jack Gorham on piano, Tom Troyer on electric guitar, and Mark Byerly on several instruments including guitar, drums, bass, and steel guitar, as well as Colin Cutler himself on guitar and clawhammer banjo. The album was recorded and produced by Mark Dillon and Tom Troyer at Black Rabbit Audio in Greensboro, North Carolina. (by Mason Winfree)
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GA-20 (from the album Try It You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor available on Karma Chief Records/Alligator Records)
In addition to tributing a Blues Master, GA-20 transport the sound of their recent release back to the smoky clubs and dive bars of Chicago to a time when electric Blues was being born. Guitars and drums are the heartbeat for Try It You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor. Formed in Boston, MA 2018, GA-20 by friends Pat Flaherty and Matthew Stubbs, the band formally became a 3-piece with the addition of drummer Tim Carman in 2019. The Blues, the raw riffing, and the boogie of Hound Dog Taylor translates from his own albums onto Try It You Might Like. The heartbeat pound of the album begins on opening cut “She’s Gone”, the groove traveling throughout the release. The forward thrust of the playing slows to a gritty crawl when GA-20 offer “Sitting at Home Alone” and the Blues classic “It Hurts Me Too”.
GA-20 will release their tribute through Alligator Records, the label tracing its own history with Hound Dog Taylor back to its infancy. Alligator head honcho Bruce Iglauer attempted to sign Hound Dog Taylor to Delmark Records, where, at the time, Bruce was a shipping clerk. Finding funding, Bruce Iglauer began Alligator Records, its first release the debut for Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers. Two guitars and drums, GA-20 do right by the songs of Hound Dog Taylor. The chord slashes leave scars when the band barrels across “It’s Alright” while the beat doubles down to race across “Let’s Get Funky” and “Give Me Back My Wig”. Slide notes sparkle as GA-20 exit Try It You Might Like It on the badass beat of “Hawaiian Boogie”.
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Them Coulee Boys (from the album Namesake available on Some Fun Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
For their new album release, Them Coulee Boys add electric Rock’n’Roll to the group’s acoustic-based FolkGrass and Americana. Namesake opens with its title track, the harmonies and hope/heart inspiring stories of Them Coulee Boys floating over sparkling notes and a healthy bass-driven backbeat. Namesake showcases the cozy intimacy of Them Coulee Boys with a bite when rollicking piano and playful guitar notes open “Just Friends”, the force of the cut slowly rising, and speeding up, into a handclap ending. Tender fingerpicking quietly begins “April 1”, setting the moody reverie and reminisces of the story as decisions ride on the jangly Rock’n’Roll beat encouraging “Given Up” and time in baseball minor leagues tells its story in “Knuckeballer”.
The Namesake album title references a lost friend, Them Coulee Boys sharing the tale in “Phil’s Song”. The track tributes their lost companion and shines a light on the ongoing conversations regarding mental health issues. Balancing the driving beats with dreamy ballads, Them Coulee Boys sing of lost love in “Repurposed Frown” and exit Namesake on the ethereal sounds drifting over “Hallelujah”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Southern Avenue (from the album Be the Love You Want available on BMG) (Bryant Liggett)
It’s an apt name and a stellar nod to a A-list homebase. Southern Avenue, the band, being named after Southern Avenue, the street; the Memphis Tennessee roadway home to the original Stax Records, one of the labels that gave birth to the soulful sound that helped define Memphis music. Southern Avenue keeps that sound alive with a blast of Rock. Their latest. Be the Love You Want, is loaded with R&B of the punchy 21st Century variety, full of Funk and slick with Soul. The Be the Love You Want title track is a dirty Funk opener, the follower “Control” having modern Soul vocals over a 1970’s film-score melody. Finger-snaps drive the first half of the soulful ballad “Don’t Hesitate (Call Me)” before the band slowly strides in, “Fences” is an Emo-Soul heartbreaker, and “Heathen Hearts” is a percussive percolator. There are no plugged in electric or traditional acoustic instrumentation, the only accompaniment to the layers of vocals being claps, stomps, and finger-snaps.
Heavy horns help “Move into the Light” with its aggressive bounce and “Pressure” is a big ripper, from its dirty riffs to its Eddie Hazel (Parliament-Funkadelic) inspired Psych-Funk guitar solo that will ‘melt faces’. Be the Love You Want is everything in all the right places. Sultry and soulful, hip and heavy, funky and fun. Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) is an ace producer, Southern Avenue blasts, the ace-in-the-hole is front-woman Tierinii Jackson, whose croon is serious and soaring. The record is one big hearty and heavy groove. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sierra Ferrell (from the album Long Time Coming available on Rounder Records) (by Danny McCloskey)
Self-describing herself, and her music, as ‘Country heart and a Jazz mind’, Sierra Ferrell adds touches of Calypso rhythms and Americana’s all-encompassing hybrids for the recent release, Long Time Coming. Island beats mix with Gypsy Jazz when Sierra Ferrell tosses out a question over the infectious percussion of “Why’d You Do It”. While not a full-on big band swing, Sierra Ferrell guides horns and woodwinds across “At the End of the Rainbow” on a gentle sway while Spanish guitar and mariachi horns permeate “Far Away Across the Sea” with Latin moods and melodies. Long Time Coming is a spinning wheel of sound, Sierra Ferrell seamlessly moving within Country, Bluegrass, and Roots music rhythms and riffs.
The lure of “The Sea” pulls you in and under when the opening cut for Long Time Coming ebbs and flows on a ocean of diverse instrumentation. Expect guest banjo playing on the album from Sarah Jarosz on “Jeremiah” while Billy Strings lends acoustic guitar work to the wistful tones of “Bells of Every Chapel”. Sierra Ferrell welcomes other musical cohorts into Long Time Coming with Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Chris Scruggs, and Dennis Crouch joining in for the recording. Two fan favorite songs garner reworking on Long Time Coming with “In Dreams” receiving a full arrangement, a different rendition than the simplicity in the viral video version of the song on YouTube. For her new take on “Made Like That”, the sound stretches with looping percussion and piano cradling the story’s confessions. Long Time Coming doubles up on dancing as well, Sierra Ferrell slowly turning through “West Virginia Waltz” and the hushed playing of “Whispering Waltz”. (by Danny McCloskey)
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Durand Jones & the Indications (from the album Private Space available on Dead Oceans Records) (by Dave Steinfeld)
Of all the retro-Soul artists that have emerged in the last decade or so, perhaps no one has the genre down better than Durand Jones & the Indications. The self-titled debut by this Indiana-based quintet came out five years ago now. it was their 2019 sophomore set, American Love Call, that really put them on the map — and for good reason. If you didn’t know better, you would have sworn that the album came out in the 1960s, such was the band’s mastery of old school Soul.
American Love Call featured a dozen tracks that leaned heavily on love songs, with tight musicianship and two excellent, but distinct vocalists, in Durand Jones and Aaron Frazer. (In addition to Jones and Frazer, who also plays drums, The Indications are rounded out by guitarist Blake Rhein, keyboardist Steve Okonski, and new bassist Mike Montgomery.) Suddenly, the band found itself being spotlighted everywhere from Rolling Stone to late night TV. Private Space, The Indications’ third disc, doesn’t offer any major revelations; rather, it stays true to their sound while bringing it from the ‘60s into the ‘70s. There are only ten songs this time around and, while the album gets a bit samey toward the middle, there are no duds on Private Space. “Love Will Work It Out” kicks things off in fine fashion, offering the most topical song of the 10 (not unlike American Love Call’s opening track, “Morning in America,” did). The world has changed in the two years since their last album and the band knows this. Over a midtempo, string-laden groove, Durand Jones references everything from the COVID pandemic (‘folks overtaken by disease/All the people lost made me fall right onto my knees’) and the George Floyd murder (‘watching modern day lynchings in the streets that I call home’). They get less topical after that first song and move from your head to your heart (with your booty occasionally thrown in for good measure!). “Witchoo,” the second song, is a disco tune that sounds like it was recorded in 1977. The title track follows — a ballad with Frazer taking lead vocals. (This begs the question of how a white boy from the Midwest learned to sing like Russell Thompkins Jr.) The disc reaches another peak late in the game with the trio of “Reach Out,” Sexy Thang” and “Sea of Love.” Throughout, Durand Jones and The Indications provide proof that even in the age of auto-tune, there are some bands that rely on the tried-and-true attributes of real instruments and vocals. It’s ironic that their new album is called Private Space because, if anything, it should propel them even further into the public eye. (by Dave Steinfeld)
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